The Fylgja, Part 2: Modern Experiences
What is a fylgja? A fylgja can be one of two things: the animal shape a person’s spirit takes when he or she journeys, or a semi-autonomous human-shaped entity who is attached to a person’s soul. Both types have strong connections with a person’s ancestral line and can represent (or work on behalf of) an entire family. (To read more on the examples from the Lore regarding fylgjur, read Part 1 in this series: Fylgjur in the Lore.)
Modern experience with fylgjur
In modern times, both their animal and human forms of fylgjur have been showing up in the lives of modern Heathens in. In Our Troth, in the chapter “Soul, Death, and Rebirth,” the contributors note that both male and female, human and animal fylgjas have been seen and experienced by many modern Heathens. They argue that male and female fylgijas are showing up in relatively equal amounts, though this can be hard to ascertain for sure.
In my experience of discussing the topic with individuals and groups over the last fifteen years or so, I have found that the very concept of a fylgjur is a relatively uncommon one that not many Heathens even know existed. This his unfortunate, as I have found my fylgja to be a very loving and useful entity. My guess is that many people have them around—perhaps even assigned at birth—but like me, did not become aware of them until much later.
My Experience With My Animal Fylgia
My experiences with my fylgjur and my understanding of what and who they are continue to evolve based on new experiences I have, and new information I gather from other people about their fylgjas. Over the years, I have found that I have both the animal and human form of fylgja. They have different functions, and I became aware of them at different times in my life.
I first became aware of my animal fylgja (the shape my soul takes when I journey) in a shamanic journey workshop that I attended about fifteen years ago. It was a non-trad-specific kind of journey, which was good as it was my first experience doing that kind of spirit work. As I followed the directions from the guide, I realized that when I moved, I had hooves instead of feet and that I galloped rather than ran. I also had a rack of antlers, which I could tell by the unusual way I balanced my head, and that I instinctively used them as a defensive weapon whenever I became nervous or surprised. I assumed that everyone had a similar experience, but after the workshop, I found that taking an animal shape while journeying was actually relatively uncommon.
When I discussed this with other Heathens, most of them weren’t familiar with what had happened to me either. As with most people, they were more familiar with the idea of interacting with a Native American totem animal type being than someone themselves actually changing into an animal in the journey. An elder Heathen did tell me that there was an old Norse concept called a “fylgja”, so I did some research into it. Given that I was working in the old Norse spiritual tradition, and that the stag was me and not some animal-shaped external entity who offered me wisdom or guidance, and it added up to me having a fylgja spirit form, similar to those of the old Norse witches/wisewomen who worked seið. This stag form of my fylgja has stayed with me ever since.
The stag had been one of my identifying symbols for years. I’ve always loved the horned or antlered figures in mythology and folklore, so it was not entirely surprising that my fylgja would be stag-shaped. Whether it was I who influenced the shape of my fylgja, or my fylgja who influenced my love for all things antlered, I don’t know. Either way, the symbol and I are inextricably bound. It is worth noting, too, that my fylgia is a stag (not a doe or a fawn) because, in the Lore, a person’s fylgja is usually of the opposite gender as themselves. I remember when I first saw the movie version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban, which came out not long after I had my first experience with my fylgja. It was surreal to see an almost exact representation of my fylgja up on the screen.
My Experience With My Human Fylgja
About ten years later, as I was diving back into more intense work with the Norse Gods, I received my human fylgja. A Heathen group I was in had started a series of journeys to the Nine Worlds. As we got ready to start our first trip (to Svartalfheim), the person leading the journey asked us to contact all of our helpers and allies. I had never had spiritual “allies” of any sort, so I didn’t expect anything or anyone to show up. However, I dutifully went ahead and opened up my senses to see if anything was there. Rather like an overexcited puppy, “He” appeared, right behind my left shoulder blade, radiating such tangible love and happiness that I actually opened my eyes and looked behind me to see if someone was there. (The entire house and yard were completely empty behind where I sat.) I was confused, but as He appeared to be friendly, I decided not to worry about him again until we were done. He followed me as I went into the journey and stopped at my home base and settled in there. I didn’t see him again until I returned on the way out of the journey.
Afterward, through much research and discussion, more journeywork, and the help of a seiðkona, I was able to contact the entity directly and figure out what he was. He is the human version of a fylgja. I think that the creation story behind each fylgja is different, though they probably follow similar patterns. Mine was originally a human, with a name, parentage, and history. In life, he honored Freya above all others, and when he died, She took him in. He has been tied to my family’s line for a while, it seems, as apparently several others in my family line had also dedicated themselves to Her.
As for his abilities, he is sentient and is protective of me, though he is not a defender, per se. He can easily travel away from me, though the father away he is the more challenging it is to keep a conscious connection to him. He is very useful in spirit or energy work. He is a guide through all of the unseen worlds and can rescue me from dicey situations in journeyspace, though not in the real world. Finally, he can take me to Freya directly should the need arise, and, as is mentioned in Our Troth Vol. 1, he can act as an intermediary between Her and I.
Other traits that I’ve found to be true of my fylgja:
- He is connected to me and only me—while he might be connected to my family in the larger scheme of things, for now, I am his only focus. He offered himself to me and I accepted, as happened with fylgjas in the sagas.
- His main job, as I understand it now, is to be my guide while journeying. He knows how to get anywhere in the Nine Worlds and can help make sure I come back all in one piece. When I leave bits of me behind or inadvertently send parts of my consciousness ahead, he can find, collect, and reintegrate these pieces for me.
- He is not a defender or a protector spirit of any kind. He is not a teacher, either. He is more of a companion.
- We have a strong emotion-based connection. I’m not sure if this is the usual way of things (they were called fetch-wives for a reason), or if that is because he’s a gift from Freya and many of Freya’s gifts are emotion-based.
The list is always evolving.
If you are working within the Norse worldview and don’t know if you have one, you probably actually do. I highly recommend doing some work to uncover what or who yours may be. The animal type is more common in the sagas, though both types are showing. My thought is that most people who are active spirit workers of one kind or another probably already have a fylgja assigned to them or their family or are capable of contacting their fylgja. Think of finding and connecting with your fylgja as receiving an unexpected inheritance. I know mine more than earns his keep, and I’m grateful to have the relationship I do with him. Hail to the fylgjur!
Gundarsson, Kveldulf, ed. Our Troth: Vol. 1: History and Lore, 2nd ed. Charleston: Booksurge, LLC, 2006.
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